EUPHEMISM in Why Nations Fail… by Daron Acemoglu, a Turk, and James A. Robinson, a Brit. Turkey and Great Britain were at war in 1914, and the cream of Australian youth was sacrificed at Gallipoli on the altar of the opium and heroin trade that was the driver of WWI. Yes Virginia, WWI really was another Opium War, only this time with both sides equally matched.
Yet the USA was never at war with Turkey, from 1912, (when the first skirmishes broke out in the Balkans following the Chinese rebellion), through 1919 (when armistice papers were signed). Underlying this difference in military involvement is a difference in viewpoints. Imperial ideology eschews clear thinking, and relies on euphemism as a filter to blur the harshness of reality. The English know whereof they speak when it comes to twisting language, as George Orwell so eloquently illustrated:
One of these days, thought Winston with sudden deep conviction, Syme will be vaporized. … He sees too clearly and speaks too plainly. The Party does not like such people. One day he will disappear. It is written in his face.
Hence extractive intitutions instead of looter kleptocracy, elites instead of crony fascists. It puts a patina of British understatement on the whole wretched business of using addictive narcotics to enslave and tax the more primitive societies encountered when Brittania Ruled the Waves. Little is said about the authors’ nations grinding youth into chop suey with high explosives in a struggle against competition and low prices in that same “market”.
Google “extractive” and the engine summons up what the word really means–mining of ore deposits, wells, tapping of rubber trees and gathering of nuts and berries worthy of a hunter-gatherer tribe. Retasking the word into a misleading euphemism is the sort of exercise that only the intellectual residue of imperial colonialism could ever require. Someone in the death camps of Christian National Socialism was assigned the duty of chiselling fillings out of skulls, and it should surprise no one to find “extraktiv” somewhere in the job description. “Rights” is also the target of much equivocation and euphemistic morphing.
British intellectuals and politicians whined about their “right” to send men with guns to tax American colonies after 1776. True to form, the authors of “Why Nations Fail” bandy the word “rights” about with no regard for whether it justifies cannibal butchery or represents a moral claim to freedom of action. Only the context of the particular phrase in which it appears gives a clue to the intended meaning at that slippery instant.
Deliberate dishonesty has indeed grown popular since closer scrutiny of such concepts as government (which they accurately recognize) and rights, freedom, force and power (which the authors slop about as vague and malleable components of adjectival phrases). But cluelessness is a more likely explanation, followed by the fear of disapproval from more dogmatically-looter comrades. The book is a useful compendium of curbside historical observations interlarded with familiar homilies into a bowdlerized repetition of what Adam Smith revealed in 1775: that too many parasites ruin the polity.
The idea seems to have been to dilute the power of induction by overloading it with minutiae–not for illustrative clarity as in The Wealth of Nations–but rather as a milquetoast approach to confronting devout communists with elementary facts of mixed economy politics without affronting the bristly aspects of mystical dogma so enthralling to intellectuals of the looter persuasion. The Laffer Curve in today’s world of political economy publishing goes from a book full of blank pages (sells almost no copies but few feign mortal offense), to a book bluntly expounding the naked truth (a blockbuster for decades, whose author is thenceforth pilloried in print with none of her pertinent points addressed).
To transform Why Nations Fail into a useful exposition one need only translate some key terms into The American Language:
- extractive: coercive, dictatorial
- extractive institution: looter kleptocracy
- elites: mixed economy statists, crony fascists
- elite rule: crony fascism
- democracy: unverifiable elections
- pluralism: collectivism
With those six changes the book morphs into an informative rehash of Adam Smith’s main points that even Americans can benefit from reading.